It is only extreme cases of cruelty that need their lordships to ride in favour of hapless creatures. Jallikattu does not fall in that category.
You don’t have to be a jallikattu fan to realise that the last-minute ban ordered by the Supreme Court yesterday (12 January) is wrong and misdirected. To use the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to attack a cultural practice that usually kills no man or animal is nothing more than the court indulging a judicial fantasy that it is upholding the constitution.
It is not the court’s job to adjudicate in matters cultural except where a human life is involved or there is wanton cruelty to animals that goes beyond mere sport or tradition. If the Supreme Court is not guided by this sensible principle, then it might as well forbid halal slaughter since this religious practice says the animal should not be stunned before slaughter. Stunning reduces the pain when the animal is being killed, and thus can be made compulsory under the Prevention of Cruelty Act too – when its ambit is stretched to include a jallikattu or even bull racing. The Prevention of Cruelty Act is a man-made law and not the same as protecting the fundamental principles of the constitution.
By the Supreme Court’s apparent reasoning, one should proscribe horse-racing, for it often involves putting down an animal that breaks a leg or cannot race anymore. One should also be discouraging horse-riding for pleasure, or keeping dogs as pets and putting them on a leash, for human domestication works against the dog’s larger canine instincts, including its normal approach to mating. There is no earthly reason why domestic dogs can only participate in “arranged” mating.
By the court’s logic, the Spaniards should ban bull fights, and Amercans should celebrate Thanksgiving with a slice of cake instead of sacrificing a turkey, often bred in cramped conditions. In fact, it can be argued that any human who is incapable of hunting his own animal for breakfast or lunch, which at least gives his two- or four-legged future brunch a fairer chance to run or flee – and maybe even inflict a wound or two on him – must stick to eating fruits and veggies. It is inhuman for humans to breed animals in conditions determined by them and not nature.
Equally, why sacrifice any animal at all in the interest of developing human medicine? Isn’t deliberately injecting toxins and poisons in animals the ethically wrong thing to do? Shouldn’t all clinical trials be restricted only to humans willing to accept the risks after being properly informed about them?
To be sure, I am not against PETA or veganism or even against the idea of preventing cruelty to animals. Absolutely not. The Mahavira thought about it two-and-a-half millenia ago. Not many agreed with him, but the progress of human values gradually makes those same values apply to all living beings sooner or later.
But one has to underline two things: the progress of human values to the animal kingdom has to be through social argumentation and progress, not force or judicial intervention. It is only extreme cases of cruelty that need their lordships to ride in favour of hapless creatures. Jallikattu does not fall in that category, even though I personally do not like watching the testing of human ingenuity against animals.
Nor, for that matter, is it the Supreme Court’s job to decide whether menstruating women should or should not be allowed in Sabarimala temple. That is for the devotees to decide – and they will decide sooner than later, depending on social pressure for change. You don’t have to be a card-carrying feminist to suspect that the ban on menstruating women may have had patriarchal origins, but is that a good enough reason for the top court to wade in to rescue damsels outside the temple?
Their Lordships surely have better things to do. The battle women fight in the socio-cultural sphere is society’s battle, not the men in black robes.